Slow Fashion October: Long Worn

I have had this phrase, “long worn”, percolating in my head all week. Through lectures on torts and civil procedures, through contracts readings and memo writings, during lunch breaks, and coffee runs, while making dinner, and getting dressed, I have been turning over in the back of my mind what long worn means to me, and how it fits into my life. At this moment, there are two concrete ways I see this concept operating in my world: (1) the clothes that others have worn before me, and (2) the clothes I make to last.

I have been a life-long thrifter. My mother is a public school teacher, and with three kids, thrifting was an easy, and fun way to keep us on budget, and fashionable. As a child, and a teenager, I just thought of second hand clothes as a way to find interesting pieces that were different from what everyone else was wearing. I loved thrifted clothing for what it could do to set me apart. While I still value that particular aspect of buying second hand, I have lately come to realize the value of reuse of clothing. In a world where trash is produced at an alarming rate, and our society’s relationship with the wardrobe has changed so drastically, so quickly, thrifting can be a radical way to remove oneself from the cycle. To wear second hand clothes is to give a garment new life, spare it from the dumpsite, and release oneself from the hectic world of fast fashion.

At this point, I would say close to 80% of my wardrobe is thrifted, and nearly 100% of my hardest working garments come from my second hand selection. Pictured below are two of my most favorite, and longest kept thrifted finds.

The jeans are high-waisted Levi’s, found a few years ago, and they fit like a dream. I have a body that is often hard to fit, with short legs, and wide hips that make correctly fitted pants almost impossible. Those jeans are like the Holy Grail to me, and up until recently were the only pair of jeans I owned. The knees are starting to thin, but these babies are long from retirement. I’m looking forward to the future rips and mends that will continue to tell the story of this incredible pair of pants.

The sweater was a gift, purchased at a thrift store by a friend who saw it and instantly thought of me. It is 100% cashmere, soft, warm, and light as could be. It has served me well as a layering piece through several Northern California winters, and will doubtlessly continue to soldier on through many Portland winters. When this sweater came to me, it had a few small holes in the sleeves, which was doubtless the reason why it had found its way into Goodwill. It took me only 5 minutes to fix the holes up so that no one could ever tell they were there. After I had mended the holes, and was wearing the sweater, I couldn’t help but reflect on the previous owner. Did they know that the holes would have been so easy to fix? If they had known, would they still have donated this sweater? Were they sad to see it go, did they wish they could have kept it, but feared that the holes meant it had outworn its use? As a knitter, I obviously have a bit of an advantage when it comes to repairing knit fabrics, and yet I still feel (perhaps wrongly so?) that learning to mend is not so hard a thing to do. In an effort to truly value our clothing, knowing how to make our garments last, being able to fix them so that they continue to wear, is of the utmost importance. This is the first way that the concept of “long worn” fits into my life – preserving garments deemed useless by someone else, giving them new life, and new purpose.

The second way “long worn” factors into my life, and my wardrobe, is in my handmades. When I first started knitting garments, I, like so many others, was attracted to the soft, gushy yarns that feel incredible against your skin. I wanted super soft merino sweaters to cuddle with all winter long. The only problem with those snuggly, marshmallow yarns, is their lack of longevity. They pill, they shed, they lose their shape, and what began as an impeccable finished object quickly becomes a frustrating chore. I had made these sweaters in the hopes of placing them permanently in my wardrobe, and it was a defeating feeling to realize I wasn’t reaching for them for fear of wrecking them. That’s when I started turning away from merino wools, and looking for fabrics with a bit more tooth to them. Now, when I knit a handmade garment, I give careful thought to whether or not the fabric will stand up over time. Will the wool pill too quickly? Will it keep its shape? Will the color fade? I have come to discover that choosing a soft yarn in a pretty color isn’t enough. When knitting a garment that will remain in a wardrobe for years, thought has to be given to whether or not the material will last. This year, I focused on knitting sweaters out of sturdier yarns, like Brooklyn Tweed, Lettlopi, and Imperial Stock Ranch, and have been delighted with the result (the two pictures at the top of this post are a couple of this year’s successes). I have built sweaters that will last, sweaters that will tell stories, and I simply can’t think of anything better than that.

In all truth, considering this topic of “long worn” this past week, has got me thinking about so much more beyond this blog post. I am thinking about concepts that are hard to pin down (particularly when exam prep is vying for top billing in my brain space), like how the clothes I currently have will last, how the clothes I add to my wardrobe in the future will fit with what I already have, how to determine whether I actually need a particular piece, and so much more. But that’s the beauty of this slow fashion movement, it leaves you questioning what you thought you knew about clothing, fashion, and style, and pushes you to create something new.

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New Adventures, New Home

Two months ago, I did something I had never done before – I moved away from my home town.

I grew up in California’s North Bay, and there is a reason why people stay there. The weather is mild, the landscape is beautiful, the people are kind, the beach is close, and there’s more local production of food, wine, and fiber then you could shake a stick at! I had a wonderful time growing up in Sonoma county. I loved living there for all the reasons I just mentioned, and more; including the fact that all of my friends, and family are there. So why leave? Well, for all the wonderful things about Sonoma county, it doesn’t have a law school, and I am bound and determined to get my J.D. So two months ago, I moved up to Portland, OR to start my first year at Lewis and Clark Law.

It has been an interesting couple of months. Law school has definitely been the right choice for me. I’m enjoying the classes. I love the material, the thinking that is required, the new research and writing skills I’m learning. I’m loving exploring the area, visiting little thrift stores, finding new coffee shops, and going on hikes. It has been a little bumpy transitioning from a smaller town to a larger city. Discovering that parking lots are few and far between, that different neighborhoods have different feels, that going downtown can be a tremendous chore, and that driving across town can take the better part of an hour have all been new experiences for me. But the hardest thing by far, has been the feeling of loneliness.

I have always been a super introverted person, more likely to have a few very close friends in one tight-knit group than several friends across several groups. And it will usually take me a while to form those kinds of bonds. It’s just who I am, and I have always been this way. Living in one place for my entire life, this hasn’t really been much of a problem. My close friends have always been around, and even when confronted with the task of making new friends, my old friends were always there to support me, and give me a safe space to return to when I felt overwhelmed by new people and experiences. That is no longer an option. I’m out here completely on my own (well not completely, I moved with my boyfriend and my cat, but as any lady knows, neither can take the place of girlfriends), and sort of struggling to find a place to fit in.

Which is actually sort of okay. It may take time, but I am working on discovering a new place, and figuring out exactly how I fit into it. It’s scary, and overwhelming, and completely uncomfortable, but it’s also an incredibly opportunity to learn something about myself.

So what does this have to do with knitting? This is a knitting blog, and most of you probably come here to read about knitting. Admittedly, this post doesn’t have too much to do with knitting, except for this: in this time where so much of my life seems shaky and off-balance, knitting is the solid thing in the center tying everything together. I may not know where my career is going, or if I’ll make friends at school, or if I’m doing any of this right, but I can still make a sweater that I could love and wear for the rest of my life. I may not know if I’ll ever truly feel at home in this strange, new city, but I know that my feet will still feel cozy in a pair of freshly knitted socks. I may feel a little lonely watching Netflix by myself on a Friday night, but once I pick up my knitting, I feel soothed, and at peace. There may not be much I feel confident about these days, but knitting is one of those things, and if that’s not amazing, then I don’t know what is.

 

Some KAL Love…

I love knit-a-longs. I love the challenges they offer, the opportunity they provide for engaging with the broader knitting community, and the oh-so-helpful deadlines that mean I actually get things finished in a timely manner. This year, I decided to actually get myself in gear to participate in two annual KALs who’s hashtags I’ve been admiring for some time, Andi Satterlund’s Outfit-a-Long, and Karen Templer’s Fringe and Friends KAL.

This year’s OAL just concluded, and I am very excited to say that I finished on time. This was a big deal for me, because it was the first time I had sewn a garment. I’ve been wanting to branch out, and start learning to sew for some time, but due to time constraints, lack of space, and my own fixation with having someone around to actually teach me, I hadn’t been able to get going. By deciding to participate in this year’s OAL, I was making a promise to myself to stop putting it off, and actually get sewing. I chose the Zinnia Skirt by Colette Patterns, since I had already purchased the pattern in the spring. I was also lucky enough to have a friend who is a talented seamstress offer to help me put it together. We took two days, and about twelve total hours, to put my skirt together, and it was such an amazing feeling to slip into that skirt, pull of the zipper, and have it fit like a dream!

And of course, the knitting was fun too! Zinone, the knit pattern Andi had designed for this year’s OAL, was one that I had been wanting to knit since seeing her teaser pics for it earlier this year, and it certainly did not disappoint. I’m not much of a lace knitter, so doing the lace back, and shoulder details was a bit of a challenge for me. It isn’t often I find myself having to go back several full rows to fix a mistake, but when I was getting started on the lace section of this piece, I felt like all I was doing was frogging and re-knitting. However, it was all worth it for the finished garment! Seriously, if you like to knit summer tops, this one has to go on your list. Not is it immensely adorable (seriously, how cute is a cropped, lace back top?), but knit out of Quince and Co. Sparrow, it is practically weightless, making it ideal for oppressively hot summer days.

I had a blast participating in this year’s OAL, and am so glad that I rose to the challenge of learning to sew. I had let that keep me from participating in last year’s, and know that when the 2017 OAL rolls around, I will be eager and able to join right in.

 

With the OAL behind me, I’ve now got my eyes on this year’s Fringe and Friends KAL. Karen Templer always manages to come up with such exciting subjects for her annual KALs, and this year is no different. The challenge this year is so knit a top-down sweater without a pattern, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what people come up with, and to get started on my own.

To be perfectly honest with you all, when I first saw that a free form top-down sweater was the subject of this year’s F&FKAL, I almost thought about sitting it out. After all, I have already knit several top-downs, using either my own design or heavily modifying someone else’s, so I couldn’t really see what knitting another one would do for me. Then, in a moment of clarity, I had a vision of the sweater I wanted to knit. Snuggly, grey, long, with deep pockets, and a vertical brioche band, the exact sweater that I have been wanting in my wardrobe, but haven’t been able to find a pattern for, and I realized the genius of a top-down KAL. The best part about creating a handmade wardrobe is the freedom it gives you in creating clothing that perfectly suits you. What better way to knit a sweater that fits perfectly into your wardrobe than to design one yourself? This KAL gives us all a chance to flex our muscles as designers, and to really think about the sort of sweaters we want to add to our closets.

Does anyone else have a favorite KAL, one that you did in the past or an annual that you try to do every year? Is there a KAL that you’ve been wanting to try, but haven’t been able to yet? Share in the comments below! I’d love to hear your KAL stories.

Also, as a small side note, I have recently moved to Portland, OR. So if anyone has any recommendations-food, drink, activities, stores, ect., let me know!

Marathons vs. Sprints

Wow! It has been a while since I’ve updated here! Don’t let anyone fool you, blogging is hard! Not only do you have to have something to say, but you also need to have the time, energy, and proper style in which to say it. And while I’ve had a lot to say, time and energy have not been on my side these past few weeks. I have been busy choosing a law school to attend, beginning to plan my move, working four days a week, and of course, knitting constantly through it all!

Last month, I had posted a roundup of all my current projects on the needles. Some of those projects, like my grey Vianne, have made it off the needles and into my wardrobe, but several others remain unfinished. And what’s more, my inspiration to work on them comes and goes. I have been struggling with that recently. As someone who revels in order and organization, it frustrates me that I can’t seem to keep my number of projects on the needles down to two or three. I want to be able to finish things before casting on something new, but as anyone who keeps a close eye on my instagram knows, I frequently fall victim to the impulse cast on, and end up completing something new while old projects languish.

In order to help resolve this issue for myself, I have started to think of my projects as either marathons or sprints. Marathons are projects that end up taking a long time to finish. Whether its because they require a lot of work or desire to work on them comes and goes, these kinds of projects can take us months or even years to finish. They are in the background ofnour lives, worked on slowly and deliberately until they are, at last, finished.

Sprints, unlike marathons, are projects that take practically no time to knit up. They are cast on, and knit through at a break neck speed, taking only a few weeks or months to complete. Sometimes these are planned projects that are just too enticing to put down, and sometimes they are unplanned, and simply impossible to say no to.

Both marathon and sprint projects occupy my needles, and while I will work to my finish my long term knits, I won’t feel guilty casting on newer, quicker ones in the meantime.

Anybody else have any long term projects on the needles or struggle with casting on a new project before finishing current ones? Share about it in the comments!

 

Making Lemonade

 

Today, I would like to talk about making lemonade. Not actual lemonade, mind you, but rather, the things that we do when we make a mistake.

I think that, as artists, none of us are unfamiliar with the feelings that occur when a piece doesn’t come out quite right. As knitters, we know the disappointment the comes with spending all kind of time (not to mention money) on a project, only to have it come out less than expected. We have all, myself included, experienced this.

Most recently, I experienced this with a cardigan. I had picked out some of my favorite yarn, a local line called Twirl, and was so excited to create something with it. I was so looking forward to adding a garment made from this amazing stuff into my regular wardrobe. I spent time carefully picking a pattern that would show off the rustic quality of the yarn, and took a little over a month to knit it up. My initial doubts began after the cast off. It looked a little longer than I thought I wanted, and the stitch definition was less than stellar. But I went ahead, weaved in my ends, and blocked it out.

After blocking, my initial doubts fomented into the knowledge that I had absolutely made a mistake. The sweater had grown in length, and the fabric was far too drapey to support the structure of the design. I was heartbroken. I knew I would never wear the sweater, and set it aside for nearly a year while I ruminated on what to do. For a while, I thought that maybe my mind would change, and I would pull it out one day and find that I liked the fit. However, that kept not happening, and I had to face the facts that I simply didn’t like the sweater.

That was when it occurred to me that I still liked the yarn, and I could still use it. So I plotted out a new plan for the yarn. A sweater still, but a pullover with minimal structure, and a colorwork yoke that would show off the body, and rich color of the yarn. Last week, I embarked on this new project. I ripped out the cardigan, and began to swatch.

My point of this story is this–it is okay to make mistakes in knitting. I work in a knitting store, and too often I hear knitters worry over whether they should attempt this pattern or use that luxury yarn for fear of messing up. But everybody messes up. New knitters mess us, experienced knitters mess up, all knitters mess up. And that’s okay! Mistakes are great! They provide valuable learning experience, and can almost always be corrected. You can almost always rip something out and begin again. You can always make lemonade.

Have a tragic, knitting-gone-wrong story? Share it in the comments!